Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 22

The human rights organization Amnesty International yesterday accused Russian authorities of denying Grigory Pasko proper legal representation. Pasko, a military officer and reporter, is being tried by a military court in Vladivostok for treason (see the Monitor, January 26). The organization, in its allegation, pointed to a Pacific Fleet military court decision on January 31 to bar Pasko’s lawyer, Karen Nersisian, from appearing during Pasko’s trial. Nersisian is a Moscow-based lawyer for the Russian PEN Center, an organization which lobbies for free speech in Russia. The military court also accused another member of Pasko’s defense team, Anatoly Pyshkin, of leaking information on the hearing to the media. These developments raise “serious concerns as to the fairness of the trial, which is taking place behind closed doors,” Amnesty International said.

The human rights organization also questioned the legality of the military court’s composition, which includes a judge and two Russian border guard officers who serve as “lay” judges. As Amnesty International noted, Russia’s Federal Border Guard Service–under which the two officers serve–is subordinated to the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is the agency which arrested Pasko on treason charges and is pursuing the case against him. Pasko’s trial began on January 21. On January 29 it was suspended until February 8, following the decision to expel Nersisian from the court room.

Pasko, a military reporter for the Pacific Fleet newspaper “Boevaya vakhta” (“Battle Watch”), was arrested in November 1997 on his return from an officially sanctioned trip to Japan. He faces charges of espionage and revealing state secrets. If found guilty, Pasko could receive a jail sentence of up to twenty years. The charges are believed to stem from Pasko’s journalistic investigations–some of them performed for Japanese media–into the Russian Pacific Fleet’s illegal dumping of nuclear wastes. The task of defending Pasko has been made more difficult by the fact that the FSB has declared his trial a state secret and closed it to the public. Pasko, who has been jailed since his arrest, is now being kept in solitary confinement under what are said to be harsh conditions. His health has reportedly suffered as a result, and his family and defenders worry that he could contract tuberculosis before his case is resolved.

Pasko has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. His case is being cited by human rights organizations inside and outside of Russia as a test of Russia’s commitment to free speech. In that regard, Pasko has much in common with Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired Russian navy captain now facing treason charges for work he undertook for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. Pasko’s case has nevertheless not been as well publicized as Nikitin’s, at least in part because it is taking place in Russia’s Far East in the formerly closed city of Vladivostok. In addition, whereas Bellona has made efforts to focus international attention on Nikitin’s trial, the Japanese media organizations for which Pasko worked have kept their distance from the trial. The Clinton administration, meanwhile, which has indicated its awareness of the Nikitin trial, has shown little interest in Pasko’s tribulations (M2 Communications, February 1; New York Times, January 31).